1895: “The Siwash”: evidence against pre-contact CW + new discoveries (part 1)

Here’s a book that starts with a surprise!

Having written here about oaths administered to Indians in Settler courthouses, I instantly recognized this wording in the first paragraph of “The Siwash: Their Life, Legends and Tales” by Joseph Allen Costello (Seattle, WA: The Calvert Company, 1895) — 

costello preface

page [iii]

That’s the court oath as published in Samuel F. Coombs’s 1891 “Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon as Spoken on Puget Sound and the Northwest“.

Now, because Costello’s book thanks Coombs, and goes on to quote a lot of information straight from William Deshaw, who was a respected frontier-era court interpreter in Chinuk Wawa in that same locale, it looks as if Coombs’s oath and Costello’s Preface can both be attributed to that gentleman. That’s a new discovery. 

(Fun aside: among other knowledgeable early pioneer helpers such as Myron Eells (“Eells”), Jargon tall-taler W.S. Phillips, that is El Comancho, contributed some of the artwork for Costello’s book, along with F. Leather and Raphael Coombs. I’ll feature a lot of the book’s art in this post.)

In Chapter III, Costello gives us a really useful sketch of the earliest settlement history of the Puget Sound area, which started from 1845. (Notice how late that is, compared to the already two-generations-old Chinuk Wawa-speaking culture of the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers.) All of the pioneers named should be investigated for their CW knowledge; some are already famous in our little world, such as Colonel Michael T. Simmons, who went on to translate for the “Stevens treaties” of 1855. The trend of settlement continued to be generally northward, radiating from Budd Inlet (Olympia) to Steilacoom, Whidbey Island, Port Townsend, and Seattle. By 1858 there were 2,500 Settlers, a number still equalled or exceeded by the Indigenous population — which implies ongoing reliance on the Jargon between the two groups. 

Chapter IV, “The Siwash Characteristics”, is filled with racially derogatory generalizations (and an overt definition of Siwash as meaning, in Settler English, “males of all the tribes”, whom Whites perceived as lazy [page 10], as opposed to klootchman, whom Whites saw as exploited by their husbands) along with some stereotyped caricatures by El Comancho.

typical siwash face

a klootchman

“Typical Siwash face” and “A klootchman“, page 11

Not the finest portion of this book. The following chapter is much more informative, telling pretty accurate details of tribal groupings and language families.

Chapter VI, “The Chinook La Lang“, gives a state-of-the-art characterization of CW’s history and structure as of 1895. For me, the most interesting element here is Costello’s personal memory that older Native people, during pioneer times, were not speakers of Jargon. Even though he infers on page 15 that “the rudiments of it first existed among the natives themselves” before European contact, I find his personal observations of Puget Sound Salish people a very telling counter-argument: 

…such old Indians as came in contact with the Hudsons Bay Company only, could not speak Chinook while the younger class who came in contact with the settlers and traders could all speak it. It is already on record that Chiefs Sealth [i.e. Seattle] and Hettie Kanim belonged to the former class who never learned to speak Chinook. (page 16; see also page 105).  

Recall that significant ongoing contact with Whites, in the form of Settlers, came relatively late on the Sound, after the mid-1840s. (Whereas the HBC had traded intermittently around its southern edge (Fort Nisqually) and northern end (Fort Langley) for a generation before.) These facts to me sound like proof that CW had not become a factor in Indigenous people’s daily lives until long past first contact. This extremely limited distribution of CW for its first few decades of documented existence is an argument against the sometimes propounded idea that it had existed since time immemorial. 

Some Chinookisms are peppered throughout this book:

Page 17 has local Indian oral tradition that Captain George Vancouver’s ship appeared in 1792 “during the early part of a ‘warm sun‘ (summer time)” [wám sán ‘hot day’].

Ik-tch-o-coke” is said to mean ‘what is that’, i.e. íkta úkuk?”

Typesetting errors aren’t rare in this text; the Native people are said to have called molasses “ta-gum”, meaning ‘pitch’ — i.e. lakúm (page 18).

On page 24 and elsewhere we find “ta-mahn-a-wis” (t’əmánəwas) being used to mean ‘a wise man’, and “ta-mahn-a-wis men” translated as “great medicine men”.

On page 28 “the boss gardener of the Indians, John Kettle” is said to be a Clayoquot Sound Nuučaan’uɬ and ex-slave of the local Skagits of Old-Man-House village; as he’s “not over 35” as of 1895 and was sold into slavery as a boy, the story that his name comes from CW “kettle” (kʰétəl) may, um, hold water. Jargon certainly was spoken around Puget Sound by the 1870s date that this implies. (Side note: the Grand Ronde CW dictionary of 2012 has the more recent English loanword kʰétəl for ‘kettle’, while the older, Salish-ized loan of it, kʰítɬən, now means ‘bucket’ there!)

There’s talk of “cultus” husbands on page 28, and of “Boston” houses on the reservation on page 29.   

With page 34, in connection with the Twana (Skokomish Salish) tribe, we find the locally common expression, “the ‘sing-gamble’ pot-latch”; I’ve previously suggested that sing-gamble for traditional multiday gambling sessions may be CW. This custom is also the subject of Chapter XI.


“The Game of Sing-Gamble — Skokomish Tribe”, page 50

Pages 35-37 discuss “ta-mahn-a-wis” a good deal more, with strong implications of numerous previously undocumented Chinuk Wawa spiritual terms. Here we find the typical Olympic Peninsula distinction between “red” (“pill“) and “black” (“klail“) ta-mah-a-wis, and a closely observed taxonomy and history that suggests the latter custom came at least in part from more northerly wolf cults, maybe the dlugwana, a word that we find traces of in other Olympic Peninsula languages: 

The word ta-mahn-a-wis [t’əmánəwas] may be and was used in the sense of a noun, an adjective or a verb. As a noun it means any kind of a spirit in the spirit world from the Sahg-ha-lie Tyee [sáx̣ali-táyí], or supreme being — sahg-ha-lie meaning greatest, highest, above — to the klail [ɬíʔil] ta-mahn-a-wis, or devil, literally, black spirit.

As an adjective a ta-mahn-a_wis stick [t’əmánəwas-stík], stone [t’əmánəwas-stún], person [t’əmánəwas-tílixam / -mán], etc., is a thing or individual with a ta-mahn-a-wis or spirit either of good or evil in it. As a verb it is used in the sense of invoking the aid of spirits, as “mah-mok ta-mahn-a-wis [mámuk-t’əmánəwas].”

The four kinds of ta-mahn-a-wis of the Indians of the Twana tribe at least are: The “ta-mahn-a-wis over the sick [t’əmánəwas kʰupa sík-tílixam],” the incantations of the medicine men; the “red ta-mahn-a-wis,” the “black ta-mahn-a-wis,” and the “spirit land ta-mahn-a-wis.” [This last is possibly in CW púlakʰli-íliʔi t’əmánəwas, as the ‘night/dark-country’ is the one term we seem to come across to convey the Indigenous belief in the spirit land after death.] 

The sick ta-mahn-a-wis [this phrasing is more suggestive of CW than of English, thus sík-t’əmánəwas ‘illness t’əmánəwas’] was only practiced for the healing of the sick, and was often a severe and taxing ordeal for the patient if he were really sick. This ceremony was always conducted by the ta-mahn-a-wis men [t’əmánəwas-mán] assisted by the friends and relatives of the sick in an effort to drive out the spirit of one that was supposed to have taken possession of the body of the sick.

The red ta-mahn-a-wis was a winter pastime and was a common arrangement, a proceeding, so far as its being a part of a religious belief, a kind of a camp-meeting. The red, or pill ta-mahn-a-wis [pʰíl t’əmánəwas], was an assembling together, an invocation, in short, of the spirits for a good season [of harvesting, hunting, etc.] the following summer. It generally lasted three or four days and consisted of singing, dancing, the beating of tom-toms, drums and the decoration of the face and limbs and body invariably with streaks and spots of red paintj. From this it was given the name of the red ta-mahn-a-wis, pill meaning red.

The black, or klail ta-mahn-a-wis, was the free masonry of the Twanas and was without doubt the one great religion of all religious practices among them. It was a secret society to a very large extent, and none but the initiated were ever permitted to have anything to do with it. It was a very severe initiation that candidates had to undergo to get acquainted with it, and little was ever learned of its mysteries by the whites. It was practiced at Skokomish as late as 1876, but after that time it was never seen. At that time it was given out by the participants that it was to be dead after that. It is said that it is still slightly followed by the Clallam Indians [the Salish people just northward] to this day. No doubt but that among the residents of the Skokomish reservation there are many Indians who were initiated into its dreadful mysteries, but their number is probably too few to revive it. Both men and women were initiated into the practice and mysteries of the black ta-mahn-a-wis. The significance of this ceremony, from the secretiveness of the Indians, was never clearly learned by the old residents [Settlers], who had most to do with the Indians, and it probably will never be understood, at least as it was believed in by the various tribes.

wolf mask

page 42

In the practice of it, however, the Indians invariably painted themselves very hideously with black paint, daubing and streaking the face and limbs, and while going through the ceremony of initiation were without clothing. Masks made in rude imitation of the wolf head were used, and these were called shway-at-sho-sin. The mask was adopted by the Twanas from the Clallam tribe, as was the name and hence the word is the same in both languages. [DDR note: I don’t seem to find this word in the big recent Klallam dictionary…] The Twanas seem to have imported their masks from the Clallam country in most part, very few of their own make having ever been found, and these of a less degree of artistic appearance.


page 44

To a certain extent the ceremony of the black ta-mahn-a-wis was a public one and many of the old-timers have witnessed that portion of it. The more important and probably much more severe part was the private ceremony confined to the initiated. The public ceremony was a long drawn out affair of dancing, singing, beating of drums and tom-toms, rattles, etc. During the progress of the affair the candidates for whose special benefit the ta-mahn-a-wis was given, were stripped and painted and put through all manner of gyrations and exercises, the while wearing the wolf mask, that in the least resemble the antics of the animals they were trying to imitate. While this was going on the candidates were tied about the middle with a long rope, the loose end of which was held by other Indians in order to keep the candidate from running away or from doing harm to any spectator, for he was supposed to do just like a ferocious and enraged wolf in all things. The other exercises which are supposed to put on the finishing touches to the great event, were always carried on in secret rooms made of their blankets or tents and were never permitted to be witnessed. [The author goes on with more facts related to this subject, for example the Twana word for a t’əmánəwas-stík. He returns to the topic in Chapter XII. And a galvanic battery owned by Mr Deshaw was known locally as “the White man’s ta-mahn-a-wis” (page 67).]

a guardian spirit totem

I.e. a t’əmánəwas-stík (page 41)

I want to emphasize that t’əmánəwas is definitely a Chinuk Wawa word. In no Indigenous language was it originally used in any of the above senses. I’ve demonstrated that it’s originally a Southwest Washington Salish (likely Lower Chehalis) word whose literal meaning ‘sucking at the belly’ denotes one of the numerous Indigenous methods of curing by medicine people.  So all of the above phrases involving this word are post-contact innovations inside of CW.

More to come in Part 2. 

What do you think?